Food, family and holidays
Seattleites share their cherished recipes

When we asked Seattle Times readers to send in favorite family recipes for this strangest-ever holiday season, we didn’t expect such an outpouring. We got dozens of responses — thanks from the bottom of our hearts (and stomachs) to everyone who took the time to share the love. Around these wintry days during this pandemic year, the comfort and joy that food can bring means more than ever.

These six dishes represent a cross section of traditions and a diversity of deliciousness, from banh bao to gumbo to turkey neck. It was our total pleasure to test them, it’s our privilege to share the stories behind them, and we know you’ll love them as much as we do. Try setting up a time with family or friends you can’t be with physically to make — and eat! — one of these dishes virtually together. Stay safe and semisane, and cheers to creating new holiday memories while making everything more merry.

Story by Bethany Jean Clement, Tan Vinh and Jackie Varriano, photos by Erika Schultz, video editing by Corinne Chin

Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity and brevity.

Select the photos below to see full recipes.
Kim Ninh
Banh Bao
Steaming hot bao stuffed with sausage, pork and egg.
Kim Ninh | Banh Bao
A recipe that has been passed down through generations in this Vietnamese refugee household, the bao are stuffed with sausage, pork and garlic. But, pssst — check out the secret "Lipton" ingredient in this recipe.
Kim Ninh’s recipe for banh bao includes Chinese sausage, quail eggs, vegetables and more — but she says to get creative with the ingredients. Fill with your favorites! (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Kim Ninh of Mukilteo works at the consulting firm Mercer in Seattle. An accomplished home cook (she posts recipes on YouTube), the Vietnamese refugee expounds on the versatility of the humble bao. While it’s traditionally filled with Chinese sausage, pork and egg, she also stuffs the bun with various meats or veggies. She encourages readers to use their imagination. Stuff it with whatever filling you want, savory or sweet. She also turns the pillowy bao into a sandwich of sorts by simply reshaping the dough.

“This is my mom’s recipe. Her name is Kim Thi Nguyen. She came to the U.S. in 1982.

She made these all the time when I was growing up. It stores easily in the refrigerator and the freezer. When I was in college, I lived at home because we were poor, and I ate them all the time. She always had them around. I was one of those teenagers who slept during the day. At night, I was always in the kitchen, trying to find things to eat. My mom always made sure there was food. Banh bao was a staple along with fruit and vegetables. She would make 50, put them in a Ziploc bag and freeze them. And if we were running low, she took them from the freezer and thawed them out. Thank God for the invention of the microwave. What did the Vietnamese do back in the good old days when we didn’t have the microwave?

My parents live in San Antonio, Texas, now. They’re in their 80s. I don’t know how much longer they have. Now the bao tradition is passed on. I’m an empty nester. I make them on special occasions when my kids are home. My three kids come home during the holidays. My youngest, Matthew, is at Rutgers University. I split the bao (a la David Chang’s pork belly bun) and put in fried chicken strips for him. My daughter Franchine is vegan-ish, so tofu and pickles and crunchy vegetables in the bao for her. Emily has a sweet tooth and prefers bao with sweet fillings like custard, sweet potatoes, mung beans. I am grateful for family and food. It is a way for us to connect. Food just brings people together.”

Recipe origin: My Mother
Yields: 12 bao
Kim Ninh of Mukilteo puts together banh bao per her family recipe. (Tan Vinh and Kim Ninh)
  • 3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 package of instant yeast
  • 2 tablespoons wheat starch or corn starch
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 cup warm milk (can sub in warm water)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

For the filling:

  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1/4 cup of diced shallot
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1/4 cup of diced green onions
  • 1/4 cup of chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup dry wood ear mushroom (rehydrate in a bowl of water for 30 minutes)
  • 1 tablespoon Lipton onion soup mix
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 egg white
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 3 lap cheong or Chinese sausage, cut crosswise
  • 12 quail eggs (can sub in soft-boiled egg, cut in quartered slices; use one slice per bao)

1: In a measuring cup, combine the warm milk, sugar and yeast and let that sit until the yeast starts to foam. About 10 minutes.

2: Add the flour, starch, baking soda, pinch of salt to the bowl and slowly add in the yeast, milk and oil.

3: Mix for 10 minutes or until the dough turns into a ball. Then knead the dough for 5 minutes.

4: Cover dough and let it rest in a warm place for 2 hours. The dough should double in size after 2 hours.

5: In the meantime, make the filling. In a bowl, add all the filling ingredients, except for the quail eggs and sausage.

6: Fry the sausage to render the fat.

7: Take an ice cream scoop of the pork filling, flatten on surface and then plop a quail egg in the middle.

8: Form the filling like a meatball. Add 3 pieces of sausage on the surface of the pork ball.

9: Roll the dough out and divide into 12 pieces. Roll each dough ball into a round shape, leaving the center a bit thicker.

10: Put the meatball-shaped filling onto the center of the dough.

11: Pick one edge of the dough, pleat and twist until the filling is covered. Repeat.

12: With a towel, cover the bao and let them rest for 30 minutes.

13: Place 4 bao into a steamer at a time. Steam for 20 minutes.


Jan Renfrow
‘Cougar Gold’ soup
Winter comfort food: cheddar cheese, potato and crab meat.
Jan Renfrow | ‘Cougar Gold’ soup
A rich and creamy soup that features Cougar Gold cheese, this holiday comfort dish turns decadent with the addition of Dungeness crab meat.
John and Jan Renfrow’s Cougar Gold Potato Soup, normally served with chopped broccoli and crab, is seen at their Bellevue home Oct. 27, 2020. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Jan and John Renfrow worked in the Bellevue School District (for 25 years) and Boeing (for 38 years), respectively, but are now retired. Holiday meals are a time for the couple to catch up with their three grown children, usually over this dish, which features three ingredients that the Renfrow clan loves: Cougar Gold cheese, potato and crab.

“My dad passed away in 1994 of cancer. He was a Washington State University alumnus. In one of the Cougar alumni newsletters, there was an offer to purchase Cougar Gold cheese at a deep discount, $15 a can at the time. It costs as much as $35 a can now! I ordered one and decided to try the recipe they had in the newsletter. Came out really well. Everybody loves cheese. Everybody loves potatoes. Over the years I kept tweaking the recipe.

My husband and I had lobster bisque at a few restaurants. It was delicious — very rich and creamy. I thought why not try Dungeness crab with this potato soup? It became very popular. I would make a Caesar salad and serve a sourdough baguette alongside.

This recipe is about comfort, familiarity. It is bringing the family together with something that everybody feels good about.

My mom passed away in 2009, but we still have three kids and their families come over. And we still have friends come over and extended families — cousins and their spouses and nieces and nephews. Family dinners are very important to my husband and me, especially now with the kids grown up and out of the house. Family dinner is about love. And spending time together.”

Recipe origin: Mine — for the past 30+ years on Christmas Eve
Yields: 6 to 8 servings
John Renfrow photographs his wife Jan Renfrow as she makes their family recipe — Cougar Gold Potato Soup — at their Bellevue home Oct. 27, 2020. (John Renfrow)
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3 cups Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 3-4 cups of Cougar Gold cheese, shredded, or any extra-sharp cheddar
  • 1 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 1 cup diced broccoli floret (optional)
  • Optional topping: Dungeness crab eat, about a 1/2 cup per bowl

1: In a large pot, sauté onion in butter until soft.

2: Stir in flour and dry mustard.

3: Cook for several minutes, stirring continuously.

4: Stir in broth, whisking until smooth. Add carrots, celery, potatoes and broccoli, if used.

5: Simmer over moderate heat for up to 30 minutes. Add half-and-half. Reduce heat to low and stir in cheese until melted.

6: Season with salt and pepper.

7: Sprinkle with paprika and celery leaves to taste.

8: Optional: Top each bowl with a ½ cup of Dungeness crab meat.


Ellen Peterson
Aunt Rosemarie’s Pumpkin Bread
A delectable bread perfect with whipped cream or apple butter.
Ellen Peterson | Aunt Rosemarie’s Pumpkin Bread
There's nothing better on a blustery day than the smell of this pumpkin bread emanating from your oven.
“Aunt Rosemarie’s Pumpkin Bread” is photographed at Ellen Peterson’s home in Brier, Oct. 28, 2020. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Ellen Peterson is a strategy consultant with The Collective Good. She lives in Brier with her husband and daughter (and their geriatric, anxiety-ridden cat). She’s been eating this bread since the ’70s. We had a Zoom call with Peterson and her aunt, Rosemarie Ward, to get the full story behind their family-famous pumpkin bread.

“I was at a bazaar in 1973 and a lot of community organizations were selling things to raise money. The thing that made me buy the cookbook in the first place [was the dedication]. It says ‘this book is humbly dedicated to our fighting men who have finally returned home from their Southeast Asia prisoner status and to those for whom our vigil will never cease.’ That was the Vietnam War, and some of those guys never came home. … There were not so many ingredients [in the pumpkin bread recipe] and it was easy to put together. You could make it and go on and do something else while it cooked, and I had three little kids, I didn’t have a whole lot of time to be fussin’. I’ve been making it since 1973, so let’s just call it mine.” — Aunt Rosemarie, of Columbus, Georgia

“I don’t remember the first time [I ate it]. My memory is a package coming in the mail from Aunt RoRe. There was a pumpkin bread wrapped in foil just for me, and sometimes another one, but I would always get one just for me with a note that I didn’t have to share, and I didn’t share. With my dad, that was a thing, I had to hide it.” — Ellen Peterson, of Brier

“To tell you the truth, I got tired of baking them and shipping them to you, so I just wrote down the recipe. It’s always what you wanted for your birthday.” — Aunt Rosemarie

“I really started making it when I graduated from college and my mom gave me this hand-me-down, beat-up Bundt pan. I got married when I was 25, I remember making it that first fall when we were engaged. It’s been made every fall [since]. … I only make it in the fall, only Labor Day through Christmas. I refuse to make it any other time of year.” — Ellen

“It’s not secret, but if you don’t make it with corn oil, you’ll know [with] the first bite.” — Aunt Rosemarie

“Aunt RoRe and I never are [together for the holidays]. My folks live down in Pacific County, down in the Long Beach Peninsula area. I’ve been trying to get down there every other month or so, it’s just really hard for me to quarantine for long enough to get down there. My dad is in a very high-risk category and my mom is also [high-risk] just for her age. I don’t expect that we’ll see them over the holidays. This is the first year with our adult kids that we’re really struggling to wrangle them all to the same place on the same day. It’s impossible. None of us really likes turkey, so we came up with the idea that we’re going to do a Mexican feast for Thanksgiving. We’re going to have carne asada and make refried beans. We’ll still do pumpkin bread and pumpkin pies, but we are all-in on carne asada.” — Ellen

“I think this is the first year I won’t do Thanksgiving. Your Uncle Sonny died in January, and my grandsons have in-laws now, so they can’t just say we’re going to Mimi’s. They have to share time with other parts of their family. I’ll be invited somewhere, and they may ask me to make a turkey because I have been told I make a better turkey than anybody.” — Aunt Rosemarie

“[Grateful for] pumpkin bread in the oven making the house smell good and Aunt RoRe, I have you to thank for that. I want to be able to hug people again.” — Ellen

“Me too. To be in the room with all of my family where we can actually give hugs, but also give kisses. We’re just so isolated. There’s not even anybody in this house with me 24 hours a day, so I would be very, very grateful if somebody says, ‘Hey it’s all clear, you can go.’ ” — Aunt Rosemarie

Ellen Peterson shares her “Aunt Rosemarie’s Pumpkin Bread” recipe at her home in Brier in October. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Recipe origin: My Aunt Rosemarie sent me her recipe in 1980 (I have the letter saved!) when I was just 9 years old.
Yields: 2 loaf pans or 1 Bundt pan
Ellen Peterson thanks her Aunt Rosemarie for this recipe for pumpkin bread that has connected them over about three decades. (Ellen Peterson)

Bowl 1:

  • 3 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 cup corn oil (the SECRET ingredient)
  • 1 15-ounce can pumpkin (usually Libby's)

Bowl 2:

  • 3 1/2 cups flour (plain)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp allspice
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped pecans (optional)


  • 2/3 cup water

1: Preheat the oven to 350 F

2: Grease a 12-cup Bundt pan, 2 loaf pans or a brioche pan.

3: Stir together all the ingredients in each separate bowl.

4: Alternate adding the dry ingredients to the wet with the ⅔ cup water. Stir to combine.

5: Bake for approximately 1 hour. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes.


Sharon Cleveland Blount
Sharon’s Yard Bird, Sausage & Seafood Gumbo
This huge pot of goodness is like a big holiday hug.
Sharon Cleveland Blount | Sharon’s Yard Bird, Sausage & Seafood Gumbo
Loaded with chicken, sausage, shrimp, scallops and crab, this gumbo will easily feed the family.
Sharon Cleveland Blount’s seafood gumbo is photographed in Seattle Nov. 6, 2020. The gumbo is made with crab, shrimp, scallops, spicy sausage, chicken and more, and is served with rice and cornbread muffins. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Sharon Cleveland Blount is a self-described “travelista, foodie and playwright” who usually splits time between Seattle and California. Her last monologue produced before the COVID-19 lockdown was part of a program called “Letters to Our Sons.” Just as we contacted her about this recipe, her youngest son came to her and said, “Mom, it’s time … I want to learn how to make gumbo.” She makes it by feel, but the two of them came up with the ingredient amounts listed here.

“I was honored to receive firsthand culinary guidance from my best friend Nanny Ro — a down-home Louisiana native — on her prized recipe of this Louisiana mother dish. She was a sweetheart. She became my daughter’s godmother. Brielle, who’s now 28, just loved her light and her spirit and her life. … Unfortunately, Nanny Ro experienced a brain aneurysm and went into a coma and never came out of it. It was horrible. But she’s still with us, and it’s beautiful that we can still release her and her spirit and not pack it away somewhere.

While I’m making the gumbo, I think of her. Once I got the hang of it, I altered the recipe slightly and was lauded by friends to have ‘put my foot in it’ — a figurative, not literal, African American term used to praise a cook for adding all the right seasonings and ingredients, including the figurative foot of the cook, making the dish a delectable standout.

Now that we’re all home, I think we really value the time together. And there’s nothing better that sets off time together with family than good comfort food. Having family and friends gather, whenever we can gather again — that’s what I miss. But I’m thankful for those that I’m quarantined with — I just walk up to them and go, all right! It’s time! For hugs! [laughs] Because we can.

Nanny Ro is no longer with us, but she does live on through the gumbo. I do it at New Year’s and also for Kwanzaa, so it captures the season of celebrating new, fresh beginnings and all of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, which is something that everyone can embrace. I generally have a big gathering. What I can do this year is make the gumbo and drop it off, or have people come by and do a pickup — sort of a drive-by gumbo feast! [laughs] I don’t want to eliminate it, because of everything that’s been eliminated this year.

My gumbo embraces the soul. It does. And it really is all about the gumbo anyway [laughs]!”

Recipe origin: Her best friend and daughter's godmother, Nanny Ro
Yields: 6 or more servings
Sharon Cleveland Blount, who splits time between Seattle and California, makes a gumbo packed with sausage, crab, veggies and much more. (McClain Portis and Patrick O’Neal)
  • 1/2 cups grapeseed or other high-heat oil
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (coconut preferred)
  • ~ 2 1/2 tablespoons Chef Paul Prudhomme Seafood Magic seasoning blend
  • Salt to taste (Himalayan sea salt preferred)
  • Black pepper to taste
  • One 16-ounce package frozen cut okra
  • One 16-ounce package frozen onion and bell pepper medley (or 1 large onion and 1 bell pepper, finely chopped)
  • 4 quarts water
  • 2 pounds chicken thighs, skin on
  • Two 28-ounch cans stewed (or diced) tomatoes
  • 3-4 large bay leaves
  • 2 pounds spicy chicken sausage (Louisiana brands preferred)
  • 1 pound large unpeeled shrimp
  • 1 pound large bay scallops
  • 1 pound king or snow crab cooked and cleaned
  • 2-4 cups cooked jasmine rice, for serving
  • 6-10 corn muffins, for serving

1: Start the gumbo by making the roux — oil and flour — in a very large stock pot or Dutch oven (6 to 8 quarts). The roux is the base, basically homemade gravy, the foundation upon which everything is added. “It’s all in the roux!” (That saying should be on a T-shirt.) One year, I was brave enough to try coconut flour. It added a subtle, nutty element and personality to the overall flavor, and it didn’t disturb the consistency.

2: Allow the pot to get warm over medium heat before adding the oil. Let the oil get hot. Not smoky.

3: Sprinkle in the flour little by little, allowing it to settle to the bottom of the pot only for seconds, while continuing to stir with a wooden spoon or whisk. The flour will begin to color, to brown. You cannot walk away from this step! Diligent stirring is needed. I compare the color of the roux to the skin color on the back of my hand — café au lait — to know when it has reached its perfection point. I must say, I do get nervous every single time when making the roux. If it gets too dark, it may have a burnt flavor and scent, which will infiltrate the entire flavor and smell of the gumbo. Once, I did burn it. I started over.

4: Add about 1 tablespoon of the Chef Paul Prudhomme Seafood Magic seasoning here to begin flavoring — bam!

5: Adding the frozen and cut okra to the roux as the first veggie helps remove the sliminess. Let it fry up for a while, about 8-10 minutes, while stirring. The mixture will get a bit clumpy. Just keep stirring. Don’t allow the mixture to stick or burn.

6: Stir in the onion and bell pepper, and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes. I omit celery, usually a gumbo staple. I found that celery makes the gumbo spoil quickly, and no one ever said, “Hey, Sharon, the gumbo is missing celery.”

7: Peel the shrimp and reserve them.

8: Add water, about a quart, to the shrimp peels, then boil for about 5 to 7 minutes, or until peels turn pink. This makes a nice shrimpy seafood broth.

9: Strain out the peels and stir broth into the roux to dilute it as the base takes on more of a soup consistency.

10: Add chicken and more water, about a quart, to accommodate all the thighs. I only use thighs — that way, when the meat gets so tender and falls off, it’s easy to remove the bones from the pot, while the thighs infuse the stock with fatty chicken flavor. Continue to add liquid to get a nice soupy consistency.

11: Next, add the canned tomatoes. Add the bay leaves and more Seafood Magic seasoning, salt and pepper to taste. This is where your flavor senses come into play to get the right blend of seasonings. Be brave!

12: Bring the pot back up to bubbling, then turn down to a simmer. Meanwhile, in a skillet, fry cut rounds of sausage, removing excess grease before transferring to gumbo. I use chicken sausage for those who don’t like to eat pork. Cooking the sausage separately reduces some of the spicy pungency for folks who can’t tolerate heat. I’m very mindful of my family and friends’ food preferences, of what and how they eat. I want them to enjoy my gumbo and not feel the need to pick over its contents. I even set aside a portion with just the chicken and sausage for my friends who are sensitive to seafood, which is why I always add that last.

13: Simmer about an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until chicken is tender and falling off the bones. Then go ahead and remove any bones that are free of meat.

14: Last, add shrimp, bay scallops and king (preferred for meaty pieces worth the investment of time cracking the shell) or snow crab, and simmer for about 5 more minutes, until shrimp turn pink.

15: Enjoy over steamed jasmine rice, along with warm, buttered corn muffins.


Deborah Heindl
Helzel, or Stuffed Turkey Neck
Turkey neck stuffed with almonds, spices and more — and people can't get enough.
Deborah Heindl | Helzel, or Stuffed Turkey Neck
A traditional Ashkenazi Jewish recipe that's often served at Thanksgiving.
Debbie Heindl’s family recipe of stuffed turkey neck is photographed at her home in Everett, Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Debbie Heindl is a registered nurse with Providence Hospice. She lives in Everett with her husband Steve and their two daughters, Grace and Rose. Tradition dictates she makes this stuffed turkey neck every year — even though she hates it.

“It came from my mother’s father’s mother, Molly Silverman. It’s an Ashkenazi Jewish dish — it’s either made with beef gut, goose neck or turkey neck. My mom always made it, she loved the stuff. My dad, he died when I was young, but he probably would’ve eaten it just because she made it. Even if he didn’t like it.

It makes a difference if you use the schmaltz (rendered chicken fat). You can’t not use it. You might say, ‘I’m going to make it with butter,’ and you can, but you’ll get something that doesn’t taste good. … A small needle is better. The thread [I use] was my aunt’s, my mother’s sister, her thread from 50 years ago. My daughters know how to make it, they’ve been cooking since they were 8 years old or sooner. They watch me do it and they agree it’s gross. I tried to staple it once, but it doesn’t work because then you have staples in your food.

The Jews love Thanksgiving. We love it. It’s all about giving thanks and food and family and tradition, it’s right up our alley. [The recipe] is tradition. It’s a nod to those who have passed. My sisters make it, my nephews and my niece make it. It’s already history. We might eat it this year, I changed the recipe and it’s not terrible now, it tastes like stuffing. I have friends who know … they ask ‘can I come over and have some of that?’ You got it, have mine.

I’m working Thanksgiving, which will be different. Then we’ll just have dinner some other night and it will just be us, won’t be [family] from out of state. I have a sister in Long Beach and the other one is in Florida.

“I’m grateful that my kids are still in school in the dining room and they’re learning well. I’m grateful none of us have tested positive yet. I’m grateful there’s hope. I wish that people would lighten up and grow up. It sounds small, but it’s big.”

Recipe origin: My mother’s father’s mother, Molly Silverman
Yields: 1 neck
Debbie Heindl swears by a family recipe for helzel, or stuffed goose neck. She says turkey neck works just fine. (Grace Heindl)
  • 1 neck skin of goose (No one I know eats goose, so the turkey neck is used. It's a little small and you have to sew up more than the end to make a skin tube. Seriously.
  • 1/4 cup schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1/4 cup matzo meal
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 onion, grated (not minced)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1: Check that there are no holes in the neck skin other than at the end. Sew up one end of the neck and any other holes. Sometimes you have to sew a flat piece into a tube

2: In a bowl, mix the stuffing ingredients well. If too wet, add flour. If too dry, it’s probably right. Fill neck skin with mixture, packing fairly tightly. Sew up the open end of the neck.

3: Cook in salted boiling water for 2 minutes to make the skin smooth then place in the oven alongside your roast. Roast it with the bird. Turn it once or twice to brown evenly. If cooking with the bird, roast at 325 degrees for 2 hours or so.

4: When ready, slice neck crosswise into ½-inch pieces and serve as a side to the roast turkey. I swear – people love this thing.


Alison Miller
Grandma Reve’s Kugel
Noodle kugel with a whole stick of butter: YES, PLEASE.
Alison Miller | Grandma Reve’s Kugel
This noodle kugel gets baked in a dish with an entire stick of butter melted in it. Grandma Reve wants you to EAT.
Alison Miller made her Grandma Reve’s kugel recipe at her home in Seattle, Oct. 28, 2020. (Erika Schultz / The Seattle Times)

Alison Miller is a teacher specializing in reading for grades K-5. She lives on Phinney Ridge with her partner and son — and when he found out she was making kugel for the photo here, he said, “What a treat!”

“I learned this recipe from my Grandma Reve. Her given name was Rita Ruth — she preferred to go by Ruth, and Ruth in Yiddish is ‘Reve.’ People outside of our family called her Ruth Bluestone. She was a great cook, specializing in Jewish — specifically Ashkenazi — dishes. Her family was from Russia, and this sweet kugel is one of those recipes that I’ve never altered. I just follow it as is.

Family recipes … you just need them at certain times, for sentimental reasons or comfort. As soon as I smell the kugel, it just reminds me exactly of my grandma’s apartment — she lived in Skokie, Illinois — and I’m transported right back there. I can see the carpet, the table, the couch, the clock …

I think of her, and my mother too, as very resilient women who have been through hardship and were always so strong and so open. I wouldn’t describe her as warm, but it’s not that she wasn’t — it just came across different. Her thoughtfulness was always there, and you knew she cared. She would always open her home to my friends and make food for them too. When I was a little kid, she always took me to ShowBiz — what’s it called out here — Chuck E. Cheese! She was a really good bowler, and she was also an amazing card player. She always had the Cubs on the radio, and the radio was always on in the kitchen. I just have a lot of great memories … I feel grateful that I got to see her so much as a child.

I was born outside of Chicago, then I lived in Washington, D.C., for about 11 years, then moved out here. And I know my sister would say the same thing, as she’s moved around the country — as you share this dish with people, the recipe spreads, because people like it and they want to share it too. It’s not super hard to make. It tastes amazing cooled right out of the oven, and also straight out of the refrigerator the next day [laughs]. And you can freeze it, and it’s easy to share.

My grandma would always make it for brunch or for a holiday. I like to make it for Rosh Hashana, which is the Jewish New Year. Almost every culture honors the new year in some way — it might not be on the same date, and it’s different traditions, but I just love that connection between all cultures, so I love to share this dish.

This year for the Jewish New Year, I talked with my mom and sister over Zoom, and we had apples and honey together with our families. We kept it simple. I don’t know what the actual new year will look like [laughs] — I just feel like there are so many unknowns with the pandemic. Right now, it’s just one day at a time. I feel very grateful for my family.

Food provides comfort and memories, and I thought maybe this would provide some comfort for someone else — someone who’s wondering what these holidays might be like, and they could find some solace in it, or make a new memory for their family. I think a lot of people are searching for those things right now.

When you see the ingredients, you’ll see why this is only cooked on the holidays [laughs]! But the recipes that are rich — that provide comfort — I just think that’s what people really need right now. I can’t wait to try some of the other recipes too.”

Recipe origin: Grandma Rita Ruth “Reve” Bluestone
Yields: Serves 8 or more as a side dish
In her Seattle home, Alison Miller makes a family favorite — her Grandma Reve's Kugel. (Alison Miller)
  • One 12-ounce package medium egg noodles
  • 1 stick butter
  • 4 eggs
  • One 8-ounce package cream cheese, cut up in small squares
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 2 cups scalding hot milk
  • 1 cup cornflakes, crushed
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon

1: Preheat oven to 375 F.

2: Boil noodles according to directions on package, then drain and cool.

3: Put stick of butter in 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish and melt it in the oven.

4: In a large bowl, beat eggs lightly, then mix in cream cheese, ¾ cup sugar and vanilla.

5: Add noodles and mix.

6: In a pot, boil milk then pour scalded milk over noodle mixture. Mix well until cream cheese is no longer chunky.

7: Put noodle mixture in hot glass pan with butter.

8: In a small bowl, mix all topping ingredients and sprinkle over kugel mixture.

9: Bake 1 hour.

10: Remove from oven. Slice when cool.



Reporting: Bethany Jean Clement, Tan Vinh and Jackie Varriano

Photography: Erika Schultz

Design and development: Stephanie Hays and Lauren Flannery

Editing: Stefanie Loh, Trevor Lenzmeier, Frank Mina and Emily Eng

Video Editing: Corinne Chin

Photo editing: Angela Gottschalk